Robert Paterson Obituary
JOYCE MCMILLAN on ROBERT PATERSON – OBITUARY for The Scotsman 15.6.12
Robert Paterson, actor, writer, and director
Born Glasgow, 1 October 1956
Died Alyth, Perthshire, 12 June 2012, aged 55
LAST FRIDAY evening, the auditorium at Dundee Rep was packed with theatre-goers, celebrating the opening night of The Tempest, the latest production created by the Rep’s famous ensemble company. The Rep Ensemble is the only theatre company in Scotland to hand real power to actors by offering them long-term employment, and allowing them, over the years, to build up an enduring relationship with each other and with the audience; and at the heart of its award-winning work, for the past decade, was the actor, writer and occasional director Robert Paterson, who took to the stage last weekend as Gonzalo, the “good old lord” among those shipwrecked on Prospero’s island.
It was therefore with huge shock that the company learned, on Tuesday of this week, that Robert Paterson had died suddenly at his home in Perthshire, apparently just before leaving for the theatre for that evening’s performance; and it is a mark of how central he was to the company’s work that performances of The Tempest have been suspended until Thursday of next week, to enable the company, and their new joint artistic director Jemima Levick, to recreate the production in his absence.
Born in Glasgow in 1956, and brought up partly in Australia, where the family lived for a while, Robert Paterson studied English and Drama at Glasgow Unversity, and after graduating, won a scholarship to continue his training at the London Drama Studio. He developed a strong persona as a thoughtful character actor wth a gift for dry comedy, but also a rare sense of emotional complexity and depth; and by the early 1980’s he was working steadily in Scottish theatre, as well as in film, television and radio. He was a board member of Annexe Theatre Company, set up in the 1980’s to encourage new writing for small-scale tours, and also worked extensively with the Citizens’-based theatre-in-education group TAG, with the Brunton Theatre at Musselburgh, and with the touring company Winged Horse, before moving on to main stages at the Tron, Perth Theatre, and the Royal Lyceum, where – during Kenny Ireland’s directorship – he played roles ranging from Antonio in Much Ado About Nothing to James Link in David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross. As a film and television actor, he played a priest in Mel Gibson’s Braveheart and Inspector Dare in Take The High Road, and featured in episodes of Taggart and Rebus; on radio, he worked with producers ranging from Patrick Rayner and Bruce Young to Anna Magnusson.
Robert Paterson found a true professional home, though, in 2002, when he took up an offer to join the Dundee Rep Ensemble, then being run by its founding director, Hamish Glen. Over the past ten years – as the Dundee directorship passed to Dominic Hill and James Brining – he made himself a permanent home in the Perthshire village of Alyth, and developed his work as an actor at the Rep through a huge range of roles, winning widespread acclaim for – among others – performances as the quietly lethal husband George in Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?, and – just two years go – as the troubled psychiatrist Dysart, in Peter Shaffer’s Equus.
He also maintained his interest in writing, collaborating with Mull Theatre director Alasdair McCrone on the monologue Consider The Lilies, based on the work of Iain Crichton Smith, and on a version of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped; in 2007, he wrote the Rep’s Christmas show, a clever and hugely successful version of Jack And the Beanstalk. And in February of this year, he directed his fellow Rep member Kevin Lennon in the Rep’s first co-production with the Oran Mor Play, Pie and Pint season, a fine and beautifully pitched monologue called Spirit Of Adventure.
To list Robert Paterson’s professional achievements, though, is only to hint at the depth of his lifelong contribution to Scottsh theatre, now being reflected in dozens of tributes from writers, directors, and – above all – younger actors, who revelled in his rare combination of wit, wisdom and geniality, his huge skill as an actor, and the sheer breadth of his cultural interests and knowledge. “Bob, I will miss your company, your friendship, your wisdom, your sense of humour, your music recommendations, your YouTube recommendations, your tales of computer game conquest, your insights, your foresights, your support, your encouragement, your multi-coloured jackets and trainers, your booming voice and laugh, your whole presence,” wrote his ensemble colleague Kevin Lennon this week. “Thank you for helping me throughout the years to keep grounded and sane; and for all your beautiful performances.” Robert Paterson is survived by his parents, his brother and sister, his two nieces, and his former wife and stlll great friend, the drama teacher and director Eve Jamieson; and by an army of friends and colleagues whom he helped to empower to become better theatre artists, not only through his own unfailinglythoughtful and generous performances, but also by simply being the man he was.